North Korea suffered an embarrassing spectacle over the weekend. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, ordered a missile launch to celebrate the 105th birthday of his grandfather, the country’s founding president. But the missile blew up almost immediately, ending a fairly impressive military parade through the streets of Pyongyang with the wrong kind of bang.
Still, the simple fact that North Korea continues to develop and test missiles — let alone nuclear weapons — means it will be one of the thorniest and most complex issues confronting President Donald Trump during his time in office. It also may be the most dangerous: A misstep could lead to open conflict with a nuclear-armed dictatorship run by one of the most mercurial leaders on earth.
If the standoff in North Korea becomes something much worse, Trump won't be able to say he wasn’t warned. As the Obama administration handed the White House keys over to the Trump team, the president told his successor that North Korea would be America’s top national security threat. And as predicted, things are headed south, with both Washington and Pyongyang now threatening “preemptive” strikes.
But when leaders like Trump and Obama sound alarm bells about the nebulous-sounding “North Korean threat,” what are they referring to?
First, and most critically, North Korea has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that when reliably combined could strike US allies in the region, like South Korea and Japan, where US troops are stationed. Thankfully, it still has some work to do before those nuclear-tipped missiles could reach American territory.
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